In 1938, 68-year-old Hickman Whittington placed an advertisement offering free, expenses billed, exorcisms. Over the Christmas holiday of 1937, Hickman had a divine revelation while re-reading the Bible. A man who hadn’t stepped inside a church in over 20 years, Hickman (“Hick” to his friends) professed to have found the exact passage that would exorcize dwellings from ghosts. His ad sought clients to test his theory. Over 300 people responded to the ad; however, he never actually performed the ritual. He was all talk with no action.
Hickman’s life was tragic. The 5th grade educated coal miner married Charity O. “Bedia” Bryant in 1898. He was 28 years-old; Bedia 16. They were divorced in May of 1929. On June 3, Hickman lay in wait for this ex-wife to saunter past. She was walking home with their children Wanda, 12, and Dave Edwards, 5, and George Curry, who was boarding with them and her new-found beau. Hickman jumped out and began shooting his pistol. Bedia ran. She was shot in her abdomen and shoulder. She continued to run.
Hickman cornered her and slashed her throat with a hawk-bill pruning knife. Young Wanda pleaded for her father to stop. George ran to the neighbors to telephone the police. He did not, however, seek to rescue Bedia. Within days, Hickman was charged with attempted murder.
Fast forward eleven years. No one knows the inspiration behind the ad. However, it was picked up and re-printed in several newspapers. Initially, Hickman claimed that he his ritual consisted of his reciting the Bible verse. That was it. Criticisms soon followed, and Hickman clarified saying he used the verse to engage the spirit to appear, then he would sit and talk with it. He never disclosed the Bible verse. He never really tested his theory, either.
On February 7, 1938, an article has Hickman changing his mind and wanting to try out the de-haunting ghost removal system at Crenshaw House, also known as the Old Slave House. He was out of his league with this location.
The Crenshaw House (Equality, Illinois) has a long, sinister history. Built by John Hart Crenshaw in 1738, the third-floor attic was used to illegally incarcerate freed African American slaves who were kidnapped and resold as slaves. John Crenshaw was an evil man. According to people, those evil deeds manifested into hauntings at the house.
The home became a tourist attraction in 1913 as a “thrilling experience.” (Is attraction even the appropriate word?) For some reason, Hickman became aware of the home and the supposed hauntings. He wanted to perform a whip cracking in addition to his ritual. Newspaper articles did not report whether or not Hickman was able to complete his ritual. It is fairly evident Hickman never investigated any other location.
By 1940, Hickman was an inmate at Anna State Hospital. He died on May 14, 1949.
Bedia’s fate wasn’t much better. There aren’t any public records that she married George Curry. She died shortly before Hickman on March 1, 1949.
Crenshaw House fared better. The State of Illinois purchased the home and 10 acres for $500,000 in December of 2000. On February 27, 2003, the state purchased the antiques from the estate, salvaging them from storage. Today, the homestead is part of the Reverse Underground Railroad. It is a “station.” The home requires extensive remodeling; it currently closed.
Hickman Whittington was a lone amateur. He was not affiliated with any organization. He was inexperienced. Hopefully, he never attempted this theory. It may have been early signs to his mental decline. His is a cautionary tale not to fabricate a ghost removal process. Leave it in the hands of those trained and skilled.